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31 January 2008


Tonight I had what I consider to be a really bad experience at Market, a newish restaurant in Camden Town. But, I have an inkling I might be being unreasonable and I'm interested in your views.

I left a message on their answerphone early this morning booking a table for tonight. Following the great review from Giles Coren last week, I half expected them to call back and say they had no space. They didn't and I got my table for the time I wanted it.

When I arrived, my father was already there, standing at the bar in discussion with one of the waitresses. It turns out the table they gave us was right by the door and was blooming cold as a result, not just cool, but full on brass monkeys cold.

There were several other tables for two that were empty but the waitress said she couldn't give them to us. It wasn't because those people were due any minute, it was for the far odder reason that they had reserved earlier than us. It seems that the earlier you book, the better the table you get. I know its normal and prudent practice for regulars to get better tables, but I hadn't appreciated the same was true for early-bookers. I suppose there is some sense to it from the restaurant's point of view, they firm up their bookings earlier. But if this is a policy, shouldn't they say so?

When they called to confirm my table, shouldn't they have said "Yes that's fine, table for 2 at 7:30 and because you booked today, you'll be on the shit table by the door"? I think they should. Or at least they should have said "Yes that's fine, table for 2 at 7:30 and just so you know for next time, if you book a month in advance you won't be sitting in Siberia." I wonder whether those early bookers got a verbal pat on the back when they booked.

The menu looked really good, so my father and I returned to the table just to check that it was as cold as we thought and decide whether we could brave it out. We couldn't, so we reluctantly decided to leave.

Before we did though, my father offered to pay for the bottle of sparkling mineral water he'd already started. They promptly brought over a bill for just under £3. I was stunned. I know that by all rights he owed them for it, but come on, we were clearly put out, comping us some water would not have been the end of the world and might have engendered a little bit of good will.

At the moment I'm firmly in the cutting off noses to spite the face camp, and don't want to darken their doorstep. I understand that not every table is great, but then to go and take £3 for a bottle of water seems petty. I think their arrogance and poor service is inexcusable.

Market may be part of the trend for 'British food' that started with St John and now includes Great Queen Street and Medcalf, but that doesn't mean it needs to lose itself up its own fundament.

But am I being unreasonable? Is my judgement way-off on this? I'd be interested in your thoughts.

Before I go, I'm not the only one to have experienced dodgy service. Time Out describes service becoming 'frosty' when they criticised the food. It's a restaurant, they should get used to it.

Google Maps
Google Earth (download)

Market, 43 Parkway, London, NW1 7PN, UK
Tel: +44 (0)20 7267 9700

What others think

The Times - Market, where everything is free range and lovely jubbly.


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I can sort of see where they're coming from in the "people who book first get the best tables" thing; if I'd booked a month in advance and then ended up stuck on a crap table I would be unhappy. But if the table's so bad that they _expect_ people to complain about it then they shouldn't be seating _anyone_ there!

Conversely, if the table's not actually that bad but just not likely to be to the taste of someone who prefers a more consistently warm ambient temperature, then why not let you have a different table? The later-arriving parties might be made up of people like me — I much prefer being in an, ahem, bracing atmosphere, to the extent that I've spent much of this winter with the heat turned off and my window slightly ajar (yes, I do live in London).

Yeah, I think you're being unreasonable and way off the mark. You drank the water so you ought to pay for it. And you chose to leave - that's your prerogative. Just imagine how cheesed off you would have been to turn up later to be given that table. You're just annoyed that they wouldn't let it become someone else's problem. Having said that, if the table is so bad, perhaps it shouldn't be there at all.


a) Any restaurant worth its salt shouldn't have uncomfortable tables, that's just greedily trying to pack in the covers.

b) Any restaurant worth its salt would have comped you the bottle of water and you would have walked away thinking how accommodating they were and probably gone back (having specified that you don't want the table by the door!)

c) Rather than cutting off your nose to spite your face I think that they have cut off theirs. Anyone who appreciates good service who reads this blog are likely to avoid them, and tell their friends etc.

It is unfortunate that many restaurants fully underestimate the importance of both good service and good will.

OK I'll be honest - in all fairness I probably think you're being a *little* unreasonable. And I mean that in the nicest possible way as I know for a fact you're a very reasonable person.

First of all, you can't expect every restaurant you book to list there and then all the reasons you might take umbrage to your seating arrangement that evening. There's every chance that most other people being sat at the table you were given would not have cared that it was a bit chilly - I wouldn't, for a start - I'm always baking hot in restaurants and would love a cold table for a change.

Secondly, the water thing. Yes it's a bit cheeky to expect you to pay for a bottle of mineral water that you barely touched, but this just serves to reinforce my golden rule - ONLY EVER ORDER TAP WATER! Then they can't charge you for anything. And if you're desperate for something fizzy have a glass of Cava - very often it's more or less the same price :)

Having said all that, it's always awful when an evening out at a restaurant takes a wrong turn, and you do have my sympathies.

And if you're still in the mood for a nice British meal without the service attitude, try the Prince of Wales in Putney. It's my greatest new find and I can't recommend it enough.

Well thanks for all your responses, Chris, Aunty Sharm, LSF and Kake.

I'm pleased to see that my view is largely the dominant one. Chris, I understand what you're saying and you're right that a restaurant shouldn't have to tell you every possible problem.

But, LSF, Chris, when a newish restaurant sees customers are so peeved I'd do everything I could do keep them happy. Although I think it's bonkers they couldn't have offered one of us the other tables, I do understand if they were fully booked. But to then charge for the water seems insane - what's the point. Not charging us would have only been upside for them, charging us was only ever going to be downside.

As for not drinking sparkling water, I couldn't agree more. I'm a Thames Water man myself.

I live in Camden and frequent that road a lot for restaurants. We've glanced at the menu in Market a few times, but never gone in. Seems too much like a 'trying too hard to be trendy' place, not very welcoming.

I live in Camden and frequent that road a lot for restaurants. We've glanced at the menu in Market a few times, but never gone in. Seems too much like a 'trying too hard to be trendy' place, not very welcoming.

I know what you mean but I'd still like to try it. It's had some great reviews.

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